We’ve written about carnival on Tenerife so many times that it can sometimes feel as though we’re covering the same ground over and over again. Of course it’s always fun and each year throws up new experiences but ultimately it follows the same pattern – stand for hours to get a good view at the parades, rack our brains to come up with different costumes and then exhaust ourselves at addictive street parties. And finally, when the fog had cleared, write about it.
This year we thought we’d do something a bit different and give people a peek behind the scenes at carnival on Tenerife.
The Designer of the Carnival Queen Costume
A couple of years ago we interviewed the king of Tenerife’s carnival queen costumes, designer Leo Martinez. Arranging to meet Leo was like arranging to meet a spy… at a secret location in Santa Cruz. We were given directions to get close to his workshop where Leo himself would make contact.
The cloak and dagger directions were mainly because you’d never find the place in a million years. There were no signs to give it away and certainly no windows for rival eyes to peek through.
There was going to be a lot of technical jargon involved so we asked friend Arantxa, who lives in Santa Cruz, to tag along (young daughter in tow) to make sure nothing was lost in translation. The directions Leo gave us involved meeting outside a sex shop (the only landmark in the area).
As we couldn’t find said shop, Arantxa asked a passer by. There we were, two extranjeros, one with a camera around his neck, and a Canarian woman with a young girl slung around her shoulders asking for directions to a sex shop. In Britain we would have been surrounded by police cars before you could say ‘misunderstanding’. In Santa Cruz the bloke we asked didn’t bat an eye, he simply pointed the way to the meeting point.
You’d expect a workshop where carnival queen costumes were designed to be quite glamorous. It is and it isn’t. The workshop looked like any anonymous backstreet affair with a couple of woman hunched over old sewing machines, feeding them with reams of material. The thing that elevated it from looking like a common or garden sweatshop were the items draped across benches and on rails. Leopard bustiers, jesters’ hats, royal purple gowns, sparkling bracelets and necklaces, sexy pilots’ uniforms worn by pop duo K-Canarias in a television advert and extravagant plumes from tropical birds.
Leo bent over a table as he spoke, meticulously fixing colourful jewels to a pale blue basque. He was totally down to earth, lacking any of the flamboyant pretension that you might expect of someone who designs such creations as carnival queen costumes.
Leo wouldn’t tell us what his latest carnival queen design was going to be but he did drop hints. He’d been gathering material for months, picking up bits and bobs in small batches in various locations, including mainland Spain. Buying all your materials at once and in the same location would almost amount to telling competitors exactly what you were planning.
Leo was confident that his carnival queen design would blow judges away. What he told us made it sound intriguing – on one level a stunningly exotic creation; on another, a subtle political statement.
Leo’s carnival queen costume never saw the light of day.
A couple of weeks after we interviewed Leo we were informed that he’d been ‘asked’ not to enter, despite all the planning and work that had gone into the costume already. The reason, so we were told, was that as Leo had a habit of winning he’d been asked to bow out in order to give someone else a chance. Instead of participating Leo was given the honour of being one of the judges.
To achieve excellence, people need to raise their game to match those at the top. On this occasion on Tenerife it looks as though the bar was lowered.
All in all it was a fascinating and enlightening peek behind the scenes of the world of a carnival queen costume designer.
Incidentally, I accidentally left my camera lens hood on one of Leo’s benches. I like to think it ended up as part of one of Leo’s exotic creations.
Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to online travel sites and travel magazines. Follow Jack on Google+